Phantom Fighters


Stick fighting in the twilight of the evening sun

Stick fighting in the evening sun

…In Southern Ethiopia, witnessing a Suri stick fight or ‘Donga’ was one of the most awe inspiring public displays of aggression I think I’ve ever seen.  Stick fighting is a brutal sport there is no doubt, but when you see it in the flesh, you realize that it is a very fair and honest way of testing the physical and mental ability of a man.

On surface inspection you might think that this is a simple sport… and to a certain degree it does do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’, so to speak.  However,  the fighters are extremely skilled, and there are strict codes of fighting conduct and ritual.  Saying that, adrenaline is a powerful drug that can empower men with superhuman strength.  People get hurt, and during the stick fighting season each year men die.  You’re not safe in the crowd either.  Twice we witnessed bystanders get badly hurt by wayward sticks. One such incident involved one of our Suri security guards who we knew affectionately as ‘Bob’ due our limited grasp of Surinese.  Assigned to protect our camera man amidst the 1000 strong crowd, Bob, who carried a loaded Kalashnikov at all times, was sent to his knees by a wayward stick at one point much to the horror of onlookers.  What ensued reminded me of a scene from ‘The Fist of Fury’ as Bob, obviously quite embarassed at his loss of face in front of us, grabbed a stick from a bystander and randomly set apon anyone within a 3 metre radius, arms flailing like a windmill in a hurricane.  Nevertheless, as I had witnessed on many occasions before at a stick fight, a few minutes later, aggression released, Bob returned to his duties and the crowd to the main attraction, and the incident was all but forgotten.  Such is the way at a Donga.

Bob takes a blow

On a techy note, for me, one of the unexpected highlights of filming in Ethiopia was seeing the amazing footage captured by American Cameraman Steve Romano.  Steve shoots high speed film using a Phantom HD camera which can capture moving images at fantastically high frame rates.  No doubt you are familiar with footage showing water-filled balloons exploding in studios, but just wait until you see the effects of a 3 metre long Suri stick as it makes high speed contact with a mans torso.  Truly astonishing.

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Interested in more stories from Ethiopia?  Try HERE


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